The National Geographic Channel has announced that Rob Lowe will be narrating a new documentary series called The '80s: The Decade That Made Us, a six-part event airing next month. From the looks of the trailer, the series will cover the politics and economics of the day as well as the expected pop culture nostalgia — New Coke! Michael J. Fox! — that has been memorialized ad nauseam for years, even before VH1's ubiquitous I Love the '80s series. But now that the decade is getting the serious Ken Burns-lite treatment on Nat Geo, can we finally be done with it? Like, please?
There probably isn't a person under 35 who hasn't been corralled into attending some kind of nightmarish '80s-themed party in the last decade or so. We've had '80s throwback movies and TV shows — some good (The Wedding Singer) some very bad (That '80s Show) — so much so that "The Eighties" has become something of a genre unto itself. Sure we're a civilization that has always been prone to looking back on the past with fondness, but there's been something particularly virulent about our awed-but-ironic reverence for the 1980s. It's probably because it's been mostly based on easy, jokey references and silly fashion choices; whereas the also much-eulogized WWII and Vietnam eras (generally associated with the 1960s) have the weight of historical profundity to grapple with, the '80s, for all their darkness and descents into various hells (AIDS, Wall Street run amok), mostly seem like simply a funny, badly styled time. Of course that's only true depending on a certain perspective, but it's that particular perspective driving a lot of media these days.
Namely, people who grew up in the '80s, who were largely the first young users of the Internet, they're the first ones who became savvy with blogging and viral memes and all the stuff that can propagate trends far more than they should be. Throw in various rerun television networks and a bunch of college kids eager to prove their age by remembering old things, and you have an '80s craze that's gone on far longer than it had any business to. It's all gotten a bit tired; the ironic side ponytails and colored Wayfarers and NKOTB fawning. It's too much! We should be putting the '80s to rest, left to molder in peace with all the other decades. One hopes this Nat Geo documentary will be the definitive assessment of the era and then we can move on.
Though, I suppose the trouble is we already are moving on. Thanks to the '80s boom, quick 'n' cheap nostalgia became an industry. And thus we've been forced into the 1990s, told to fondly or kitschily remember things that just happened. The tail end of Generation Y is starting to feel their age a bit, and so we get things like BuzzFeed Rewind, which occasionally reaches back a bit farther than the 1990s, but is mostly littered with posts about Jumanji and Total Request Live. Sure it can be fun to remember all those old things for a moment, but the whole ornate display of it feels a tad forced. Surely there are '90s parties happening on college campuses across America, people dressing up like Forrest Gump or Mia Wallace (actually, they're more likely to be dressing up as Hey Arnold or someone from Salute Your Shorts), and surely they are just as annoying as our '80s party, if not more so for the era's proximity. Maybe this is just the sour grapes of someone old enough to have been a sentient human in those days and who doesn't understand why we need to so practicedly and showily remember things that just happened. But whatever the case, we should expect to endure many more years of '90s nostalgia.
But maybe we'll at least soon be done with the '80s. Goodbye Tiffany, goodbye Jem. It was fun remembering you for a bit, but it's all gotten a bit, well, old. Here comes National Geographic to sum it all up for us and push us into the future. 1990, here we come. Sigh.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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